Another Olympic season has ended and as I reflect upon the sporting fervor that swept across the world, that for once united instead of divided different nationalities, it seemed that all eyes were focused on the ‘competition’. The effects that these monumental two weeks of extraordinary feats have been, in my mind, all round positive.
I watched, intrigued, as my son took to the pool, his sister sitting dutifully alongside timing his laps, correcting his strokes, shouting encouragement. The trampoline was in nigh constant motion with somersaults and split legged leaps and shouting of scores. Tennis was played, the neighborhood jogged. It seemed that a mere two weeks did more to bring out their sporting urges than their entire school careers combined.
Of course, where there is sport so too is there conflict. Perhaps not in a negative way, but certainly in a competitive one. Comparison of strength, endurance, stamina and form is a natural consequence of any sporting event. How could it not be when gold dangles at the finish line?
At last, I am getting to my point, which is this: Yoga is not a competitive sport.
Yoga, in fact, is not a sport at all. It is a practice. A way of being. A series of poses, which are designed to bring one into closer understanding of one’s self.
What with all the preening and prowess of these magnificent athletes, it is tricky to keep ones perspective focused internally one one’s own practice, on one’s own mat. Yoga is a discipline if exactly that – discipline. It takes an extremely committed practitioner to be able to turn away from the surrounding distractions and turn inwards. Study one’s self. Better one’s self purely in relationship to one’s self. Not to a clock , or a companion, not the the teacher, nor to a book.
It goes without saying that one can learn from others naturally – where would we be without teachers, enlighteners, and examples? The key, however, is to take the knowledge and process it with respect to one’s self. Solely.
A teacher can direct to touch the toes, and almost certainly there will be a majority alongside who can do just that – with ease and minimal exertion. But if one cannot – then where the growth comes in is realizing that toe-touching is not right at that moment. It could well be in an hour, a week, a decade, but just for the moment – have the fortitude, the discipline to look inwards, realize where you are…and accept it. Fingers stretching downwards, follow the cues to work within the framework at hand (no pun intended) and go deeper using the tools given.
Work through a pose, not straight into it. Understanding how the pose relates to one’s own practice and making a success thereof no matter where the fingers lurk, is the essence of yoga. The reward will be greater in the long run.
A little word that I sneaked in a few paragraphs above might be quick to slip off the radar – ‘accept’. It sounds effortless, it should be elementary, but much of our lives are dictated to by prompts urging us to do just the opposite; don’t settle for mousy – be blonde. Don’t accept fat, be thin. Don’t settle for thin, be skinny – the illustrations can last a lifetime. Yoga is precisely the vehicle through which one can reach a place where it doesn’t matter what anyone else can do, of sole importance is what the practitioner can do within the framework of their extremely singular abilities.
A place of acceptance.
Acceptance that one’s hamstrings might be so tightly wound that no matter how long the nail extensions, fingers might never reach the floor. Acceptance that those same hamstrings will wince and protest in hanumanasa (the splits).
The lesson is to accept where one is, where one cannot be, where one might want to venture. But above all to work with the way things are in the present. The future will take care of itself, and very likely badly if rushed as there is no quicker route to injury than competing within someone who has a completely different physiology.
Step one to the gold medal – Acceptance. The rest will take care of itself.